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Apple And Foxconn, Now With Less Guilt: Seven And A Half Things To Know

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In this March 28, 2012 photo provided by Apple, Inc., Apple CEO Tim Cook, center, visits the iPhone production line at the newly-built manufacturing facility Foxconn Zhengzhou Technology Park, which employs 120,000 people.
In this March 28, 2012 photo provided by Apple, Inc., Apple CEO Tim Cook, center, visits the iPhone production line at the newly-built manufacturing facility Foxconn Zhengzhou Technology Park, which employs 120,000 people.

The odds of you winning tonight's $540 million Mega Millions jackpot are 175 million to one, but there are only seven and a half things you need to know today. Here they are:

Thing One: There's a good chance that you are reading these carefully considered (not really) words on an Apple device built by harried, endangered workers in China, a fact for which you might occasionally feel a slight twinge of guilt. Soon, hopefully, you can maybe have a guilt-free iPad experience.

A group called the Fair Labor Association has investigated conditions at Foxconn, Apple's main manufacturer in China, and found lots to make us feel guilty. The probe, which appears to be somewhat more rigorous than Mike Daisey's make-stuff-up approach, found "excessive overtime and problems with overtime compensation; several health and safety risks; and crucial communication gaps that have led to a widespread sense of unsafe working conditions among workers."

In response, Foxconn has agreed to make life better for the people who make your iStuff, in ways The Huffington Post's Bianca Bosker helpfully breaks down for you. Apple has said it is on board with the recommendations. We'll see. It will not be cheap or easy: Foxconn may have to "hire tens of thousands of additional employees, which along with the wage increases could cost hundreds of millions of dollars annually," The New York Times writes. But this could encourage an improvement of labor conditions throughout China, the NYT suggests. Great news, but, you know, not to be all Debbie Downer about this, that will also encourage us to hurry up and find the world's next super-cheap pool of exploitable labor.

Thing Two: RIM Job: Meanwhile, the Canadian Apple, BlackBerry maker Research in Motion, is in the midst of even greater upheaval -- and it's about time. The company, faced with dismal sales and vanishing profits, has jettisoned a handful of top executives, including former co-CEO Jim Balsillie, is giving up on trying to get consumers to buy its devices and is thinking about selling itself, the Wall Street Journal writes.

Thing Three: GooglePad: Undeterred by the struggles of RIM, which include the massive floppery of its PlayBook tablet, Google plans to sell its own co-branded tablets to compete with Apple's iPad soon, the Wall Street Journal reports. Google is also trying to forget its failed effort a couple of years ago to sell its own branded smartphone, the Nexus One. (Anybody remember that? Me neither.)

Thing Four: Le Firewall: European finance ministers this morning are close to a deal to add to the giant firewall of money they have constructed around themselves to keep sovereign-debt problems from setting all of our money ablaze, Bloomberg writes. That news has European stocks higher this morning, recovering from a selloff yesterday amid violent protests in Spain. But again, Debbie Downer here, a cash firewall is not all that Europe needs. It doesn't hurt, though.

Thing Five: Pasty-Gate: Here in America we complain about income inequality and the rich getting richer while the poor keep getting poorer, but in the United Kingdom they do the same thing with delicious meat pies. The hot controversy across the pond is the decision by George Osborne, snooty Chancellor of the Exchequer, to impose a 20 percent tax on take-out snacks such as super-cheap meat pies called "pasties," favored by poorer diners, while cutting income tax rates for wealthy bankers, Chancellors of the Exchequer and the like. The New York Times writes: "The tax controversy, which the British press has called, inevitably, “Pasty-gate,” has come to symbolize the increasingly vitriolic debate in Britain over who should shoulder the burden of the government’s drive to cut debt and spending." Sounds familiar.

Thing Six: Murdoch Strikes Back: Rupert Murdoch has had enough of saying he's sorry! He's no longer going to just sit back and take accusations that bribery, hacking and piracy can be found in every sprawling corner of his News Corp. empire, Reuters writes. He yesterday fired off some strangely populist tweets, including jabs at "right wingers," believe it or not, and promises more substantial fighting-back to come.

Thing Seven: The Brothers Kwok: Hong Kong arrested brothers Raymond and Thomas Kwok, the billionaires who run the city's biggest real-estate empire, and accused them of bribery. "In a city where a small group of powerful organizations control real estate, transportation and communications, the sight of two tycoons walking into law-enforcement offices to answer questions in a corruption case was riveting," writes The Wall Street Journal.

Thing Seven And A Half: Scaramouche! Scaramouche! From now on, if you get arrested and do not sing "Bohemian Rhapsody," word-for-word, note-for-note, at the top of your lungs, in the back of the police cruiser on the way to the station, then you are doing it wrong.

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